The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1980, Volume 26, Number 1
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

Ben Rubin Award Winner
San Diego Historical Society 1979 Institute of History

Images from the article

Samuel Fox was born into the Jewish community of Esperjes, Hungary on February 26, 1862. His father, Jonas Fouche, was a wealthy merchant and landowner, but during the Franco-Prussian War his fortune was ravaged. Consequently, Samuel withdrew from school at age thirteen to provide assistance for the family. The increasing anti-Semitism of the Eastern European populace compelled him, at age eighteen, to emigrate to America from Hamburg, Germany in the steerage of a German liner. He lived in New York for four years and attended night school to learn English.1 In 1885 he traveled to San Francisco where he worked for a large clothing house, Raphael and Son.2 Shortly afterward, Fox migrated to Los Angeles, and then in 1886 he came to San Diego because he felt it had the greatest business opportunities.3

When Fox first arrived, San Diego had a population of only nine thousand.4 He concluded that his hopes for financial success could be tied to the city’s anticipated growth. Accordingly, he coordinated his commercial ventures to respond positively to a developing community.5

He soon opened a real estate business because low prices here had stimulated a great land boom. His first office was located in a small room behind a drugstore at Fifth and Market Streets. Since he badly needed to generate operating capital, Fox sold any lot on which he could make a one hundred dollar profit.6

After about ten years when his office became one of the largest real estate establishments in the city he moved to 1320 D Street.7 When his undertaking prospered more in 1898, Fox and Vernon G. Mathews, another prominent realtor, merged their businesses. Through this arrangement, the two men felt they could maximize their service and profits.8

The rapid inflation of land prices significantly contributed to Fox’s growing business. From 1906 to 1927 a block of land overlooking the bay increased in value from $400 to $16,000. In 1911 a lot on the corner of Fifth and Beech Streets purchased for $10,000 sold for $20,000 six months later, and three months after that it sold for $30,000. Fox indicated that he did not begrudge property owners and speculators those profits; he was content with his steady margin on repeated sales.9

As Fox’s reputation as a capable entrepreneur grew, he was able to allocate some time to court Miss Pauline Kuhn, whom he married in 1893. His new wife’s brother, Isaac Kuhn, had gained prominence as a Jewish businessman through his founding of the Lion Clothing Store in San Diego. Fox’s fortuitous marriage coincided with business opportunities in 1899 for, when Isaac Kuhn died, Fox assumed control of the store.10

In addition to advertising his new enterprise by the traditional medium, the City Directory,11 he also exploited the comical aspects of his name. Prospective shoppers could remember the Lion Clothing Store through its association with animals: the store named Lion and the Fox who owned it.12 When it was located next to the Hog and Hominy Store owned by Mr. Baer, the entire area was known as “Zoo Block,”13 In addition, two stuffed lions sat in front of the store. Each of the lions had a ring concealed in the ruff below the neck. A generation of children were delighted at the roar produced when they pulled the ring.14 This helped establish the business as a city landmark. Moreover, this shrewd advertising lured many customers and enhanced profits.

Besides advertising and good management, the store’s financial success was due to the growth of San Diego, and the unique position the store occupied in fulfilling the demands of the populace. Unlike the largest mercantile business, the Marston Store, the Lion Clothing Store exclusively merchandised men’s clothing. Consequently, the Lion lacked significant competition and developed a large clientele.

The store’s continuing prosperity prompted Fox to move his store in 1905 from its location on Fifth and G Streets to a larger building on Fifth and E Streets.15 Except in 1913, when San Diego experienced a financial recession, his success with the store led to a continuous increase in annual profit.16 This was a marked contrast to most San Diego retail businesses.17 The booming growth of the 1920s prompted Fox to contract with William Templeton Johnson to design a still larger building for the corner of Sixth and Broadway.18 In 1929, the store moved into the new “Fox Building,” whose construction and architectural design made it one of the finest buildings on the Pacific Coast.19 The buidling cost over five hundred thousand dollars and ten thousand people attended the grand opening to congratulate Fox and to show their appreciation for his addition to the city’s developing business district.20

Fox’s new expansion was not jeopardized by the 1929 stock market crash and the subsequent depression, since the tourist trade, the fishing industry, and the U.S. Navy payroll softened its financial impact on the San Diego economy.21 As the depression deepened, Fox rendered some timely innovations which kept sales steady.

The Lion Clothing Store had traditionally served men and boys only, but to increase earnings, in 1934 ladies’ clothing was added. Shortly afterward, the ladies’ department, in a depression-related move added the “Little Money Shop,” a department for women’s inexpensive wearing apparel.22 The 1936 Christmas message to the Christian community from the Lion Clothing Store suggested the close relationship that had developed between them: “The generous patronage we have enjoyed this Christmas season reflects the confidence that San Diego maintains in a store which never fails to recognize its responsibility to the local community.”23

Beyond his own private business interests in real estate and clothing, Fox held a significant leadership position in the San Diego business community. For over fifty years he was a member of San Diego Savings and Loan Association, and capped that tenure as President from 1935 until his death in 1939.24 He also helped to organize the San Diego Merchants’ Association in 190825 and headed the merchandising committee for the San Diego Advertising Club.26 As the depression created more social distress locally, the Merchants’ Association’s Board of Directors asked him to represent it to the Department of Public Welfare. This organization was created to help those in desperate need.27

From the time Fox arrived in America, his business success seemed to depend on how well he could adapt to the new culture. Originally, he had lived in an isolated Jewish Orthodox community in Eastern Europe. In America, many of Fox’s Orthodox assumptions were challenged and over a period of time he adopted many of the major tenets of Reform Judaism. When Fox arrived in San Diego, the Jewish populace consisted of predominantly middleclass Reform Jews who wanted to be accepted by the non-Jewish world. Fox identified with this group and sought to promote its growth.

In 1888 Fox helped raise funds for and select the site of the first Jewish synagogue in San Diego.28 Although it was the beginning of a depression, the sum of thirty-five hundred dollars was raised to purchase a lot on the corner of Second and Beech Streets. The construction money was borrowed from a savings and loan institution, and Temple Beth Israel was completed in 1889 for five thousand dollars (a total of $8500 for lot and building).29

During the synagogue’s early years, Fox was one of the strong willed men who helped keep the congregation together. As vice-president of the congregation in 1915, Fox worked ardently in the communal and spiritual affairs of the congregation.30

With the increasing prosperity of the twenties the congregation experienced financial and numerical growth, and in 1923 Fox was given authority to purchase property on the corner of Third and Laurel Streets to build a new synagogue. This temple also included a Hebrew school and was dedicated in 1926.31 Fox stated. “Like water finding its level, so has the Temple Beth Israel found its way into the hearts of San Diego Jewry.”32

On June 27, 1927 Fox succeeded Adolph Levi as president of the congregation. Although Fox worked diligently as president, a waning of lay participation and financial support during the troubles of the depression made his job difficult. In 1931, as an indication of his feelings of personal responsibility, Fox contributed eighteen thousand dollars to virtually retire the synagogue’s twenty thousand dollar mortgage.33 He also contributed to the spiritual growth of the temple; for example, his beautiful addresses to the children during the confirmation ceremonies were widely remembered.34

Despite his efforts, support continued to decline and Fox gently stated, “Our congregation, in spite of the fact that we have some very splendid Jews in San Diego, has lacked the necessary cooperation that our Reform Congregation should have from its Jewish residents.”35 However, as income from dues further declined, frustration soon replaced tact in his pleas for support, as he declared,

It has often been said that the Jews can give lessons to the Christians on methods of work in social services and philanthropy. But when it comes to doing a little work for the good of the Jewish cause, the response is so feeble and half hearted, that it would take a delicate seismograph to register reaction.36

He added, “We can learn from the ant. They throw the dead ones out. They want a live ant-hill, and we want a live congregation.”37 Fox concluded, “If it had not been for the Ladies Auxiliary,” who raised money through bazaars and dances,38 “we could not have carried on.”39 Fox continued his work as president of the Temple until his death in 1939.40

In addition to working with Temple Beth Israel, Fox was active in the local Jewish fraternal organization B’nai B’rith, an organization he joined in 1888 and of which he served as president in 1893. In 1948, in recognition of his services and long-time leadership, a second B’nai B’rith Lodge was formed in San Diego and was named the Samuel I. Fox Lodge No. 1747.41

During Fox’s lifetime, the American culture played a significant role in influencing immigrant Jews to adopt diverse outlooks. Although many of the early immigrant Jews in San Diego had accepted the Reform faith and were assimilated into contemporary society, many of their children deserted Judaism altogether. They did not convert to Christianity but were either indifferent or hostile to the traditional religion. This helps explain the decline of attendance at Friday night services and at the children’s religious school in the 1930s.42 Fox’s own family succumbed to the cultural pressures as his son, John Fox, intermarried with a Christian girl,43 and his daughter, Lillian Fox, married a Jewish businessman, but later converted to Christianity.44 Even though the family celebrated Christmas every year along with the Gentiles, Samuel Fox remained a devout Jew who encouraged his children to adhere to their original faith.45

Since Fox realized his business interests were tied to San Diego’s economic development, and that a sufficient water supply and harbor enlargement were absolute prerequisites for that, he moved into the public sphere to help accomplish this end. In 1913 and 1914, he helped the city purchase the Southern California Mountain Water System46 from John D. Spreckels’ control.47 For port development, he helped raise funds necessary to send a delegation of citizens to the state capital to secure legislation that ceded tidelands to the city of San Diego.48

During the subsequent prosperity of World War I and the twenties, Fox’s business experience made him quite wealthy, and consequently he allocated more time to serve in philanthropic organizations.

Throughout the 1920s, he was a member of the Community Welfare Council, a private charity organization which funded community projects. When Fox served as treasurer in 1929 the operating deficit decreased from $26,000 to $12,128 due to increased contributions. He reported: “Another year like the last and the organization would pull out of the red for the first time since its beginning in 1920.”49 Soon afterwards the members decided that the old organization was not meeting all the needs of the community and so they created a new public organization.50 Fox was elected the first president of the San Diego Community Chests.51 Under Fox’s leadership, even in a difficult year financially, the 1930 Community Chest campaign collected more money than ever before.52 The San Diego Club Magazine, the San-Dac-Er, stated: “The far reaching effects of the Community Chest have greatly contributed to the community this year and will be needed in the future.”53

As the depression deepened, Fox was one of the experienced businessmen who assumed control over the civic organizations to alleviate hardships in San Diego. This movement from more Orthodox Jewry to a greater acceptance of cultural pluralism was not only indicative of Fox’s attitude, but also of a majority of Jews in the San Diego community.

On November 1, 1931, the San Diego Chamber of Commerce selected Fox to serve on its Board of Directors.54 While he served there, he rendered valuable service and won the respect and esteem of the other members.55 Due to his reputation for integrity and management expertise, the Broom, a local newspaper, wanted to draft Fox for mayor. However, the chaotic political situation in San Diego, mixed with growing anti-Semitism nationwide as a result of the depression, made Jews in public office vulnerable to sharp criticism, At age seventy, Fox did not want to bear this burden and declined to run so that he could continue his already numerous activities.56

The depression reached its low point locally in 1934 and shortly thereafter, the city’s business leaders laid plans to host an international exposition to help stimulate the economy. The 1935 Exposition in Balboa Park which Fox helped to organize drew many tourists to San Diego. He served as its vice-president and was also a member of its Executive Committee.57

During this period, Fox also reemphasized the importance of water development in San Diego. As the appointed Water Commissioner in 1935, he spoke to the citizens at the dedication of El Capitan Dam and congratulated them on its final completion.58 Fox’s name was engraved on a bronze plaque listing the people who had made significant contributions.59

The Dam, and especially the Exposition, contributed to San Diego’s financial recovery and consequently Fox’s concern shifted to cultural organizations. In 1937, the San Diego Symphony Orchestra Association appointed Fox to serve as temporary chairman of the advisory committee, which was concerned with plans to hold a series of summer and winter concerts in San Diego. A lover of fine music, Fox hoped that the citizens would support a permanent orchestra.60

Since Fox loved nature, he spent as much time outside as he could in spite of the indoor schedule his business required. He served on the Park Commission, and during his term in 1922, the Natural History Museum in Balboa Park was erected.61 He was also interested in the horticulture work of Kate Sessions in the Park, and often asked her advice about the care of his orange groves in Lakeside.62 Mrs. Estelle Levi recalled that “on Sundays the Foxes would go out there with their friends to have picnics. Sam always gave baskets of oranges to everyone.”63

A daily 6:00 a.m. exercise program helped enable Fox to work beyond retirement age and to remain mentally and physically alert, and still maintain his diplomatic manner in his business.64 Mrs. Maxine Telford, who worked at the Lion Clothing Store during Fox’s later years, recalled the following illustrative incident. Being eager to go home, she once took all the change out of the cash register and put it away before the store had closed. Fox must have spotted her out of the corner of his eye, for he went over and said that he needed five dollars in change. She had to get out all the change she had put away. She learned a good lesson from this; and Fox, without reprimanding her, had taught her to follow his established business procedures.65

The members of the Fox family also were incorporated into the store’s management. Their two children, John and Lillian, worked with Lion Clothing Store when they became adults. John acted as treasurer and later as head of the store; Lillian married a Jewish businessman, Arthur Gaynes, who served as a vice-president. The family enjoyed a pleasant home life, and Fox became an active member of the “Order of Proud Daddies.”66

Mrs. Fox passed away in 1937 at the age of seventy-four.67 In 1939 Samuel Fox suffered a heart attack while in Oregon and died shortly after returning to San Diego. Among the many that came to pay homage to the deceased were Gentiles who made their first visit to a Jewish temple. A group of Negro families attended which evidenced his wide base of support in the community.68

The Civic Center flag was flown at half mast in memory of the late Water Commissioner. At their meeting the following day, the City Council bowed their heads for thirty seconds; and the mayor wrote a letter of condolence to the Fox family.69 The following memorial adopted by the San Diego Chamber of Commerce is a fitting summary for the meritorious life of Samuel Fox.

In the course of events the world occasionally produces a great and noble character who, due to his love for his fellow man, his loyalty to his flag and country, generosity of heart, untiring efforts to make the city a better place to live — wins the admiration and respect of young and old, rich and poor, people of all creeds. Such a man was Samuel Fox.70



1. “Samuel Fox Passes at 77,” San Diego Union, June 25, 1939. On file in the San Diego History Center Library and Manuscripts Collection.

2. Carl H. Heilbron, ed., “Biography of Samuel I. Fox.” in History of San Diego County (San Diego: San Diego Press Club, 1936), p. 80.

3. “Pioneer Clothing Merchant Gives Credit to Advertising for Success in Business Established 25 Years Ago,” San Diego Evening Tribune, December 6, 1938. On file in the San Diego Historical Library and Manuscripts Collection.

4. Richard F. Pourade, The Rising Tide, The History of San Diego Series, Vol. 6 (San Diego: Union Tribune Publishing Company, 1967).

5. “Pioneer Clothing Merchant Gives Credit.”

6. “Fox Sees Golden Opportunity in Getting Local Real Estate,” San Diego Union (San Diego: Newspaper Service Microfilm Department, August 4, 1933), p. 4.

7. “Local Intelligence,” San Diego Union, January 1, 1897, p. 5. D Street currently is Broadway.

8. “The Real Estate Firm,” San Diego Union, December 25, 1898, p. 3. 9. “Fox Sees Golden Opportunity,” p.5.

10. “Samuel Fox Passes at 77.”

11. City Directory (San Diego: Bynon & Hildreth, 1889). This material can be found in the San Diego History Center Library and Manuscripts Collection.

12. Interview with Mrs. Estelle Levi, San Diego, March 10, 1978. 13. Heilbron, p. 81.

14. San Diego Athletic Club, “Who’s Who in S.D.A.C.” San-Dac-Er, January 6, 1932, p. 4.

15. City Directory (San Diego: Directory Publishing Company, 1905). May be found in the San Diego Historical Library and Manuscripts Collection.

16. “The Present Financial Situation,” San Diego Union, January 1, 1914, p. 10.

17. “Pioneer Clothing Merchant Gives Credit.”

18. “Clothing Firm Keeps Up with City’s Progress,” San Diego Evening Tribune, April 2, 1930. On file at Serra Museum Library.

19. “Pioneer Firm Began in Gaslamp Era,” Gaslamp Gazette, March 1974, p. 8.

20. “Lion Clothing Company’s Nearly Half Century of Achievement,” Society Brand News, [1929]. p. 1. On file at Lion Clothing Store.

21. E.B. Brockman, “The California Pacific International Exposition, 1935-1936, Its Origin and Impact on San Diego,” San Diego History Center and Manuscripts Collection, p. 2.

22. Advertisement, San Diego Evening Tribune, October 1, 1936. On file at Lion Clothing Store.

23. “Our 50th Year Christmas Message,” San Diego Evening Tribune, December 1, 1936. On file at Lion Clothing Store.

24. City Directory (San Diego: Directory Publishing Company, 1935-39). Found in the San Diego History Center Library and Manuscripts Collection.

25. Heilbron, p. 470.

26. Advertising Club of San Diego, Constitution and By-laws, April 1923.

27. “Sam Fox Named to Welfare Post,” San Diego Union, February 12, 1935, p. 7.

28. Ronald Gerson, “Jewish Religious Life in San Diego, California, 1851-1918” (Master’s thesis, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, 1974), p. 74. On file at San Diego History Library and Manuscripts Collection.

29. “2nd and Beech Temple Named Historic Site,” Southwest Jewish Press, June 22, 1973, p. 3.

30. Congregation Beth Israel, Story of Congregation Beth Israel (San Diego: Congregation of Beth Israel, 1952), p. 21. Temple Beth Israel is Historic Site No. 82. It is the oldest synagogue in Southern California.

31. Congregation Beth Israel, Minutes of Special Meeting of Directors of the Congregation, April 24, 1925; B.O. Carson, General Contractor, Bid Addressed to Samuel Fox, August 20, 1925. Both are on file at Congregation Beth Israel.

32. Congregation Beth Israel, “The Temple Players,” Advertisement entitled “Like Water Finding Its Level,” April 1926. On file at Temple Beth Israel.

33. Congregation Beth Israel, Story of Congregation Beth Israel, pp. 33-34.

34. Temple Beth Israel, To the Officers and the Board, June 29, 1932. (Typewritten.) On file at Temple Beth Israel.

35. Temple Beth Israel, Office of the President, March 1, 1933. (Typewritten.)

36. “Temple Beth Israel, Jewish Community News, n.d., n.p. On file at Temple Beth Israel.

37. “Temple Beth Israel.”

38. Interview, Mrs. Estelle Levi. Mrs. Levi was a past president of the Ladies Auxiliary.

39. Congregation Beth Israel, Story of Congregation Beth Israel, pp. 23-33.

40. Congregation Beth Israel, Story of Congregation Beth Israel, p. 34.

41. B’nai B’rith Henry Weinberger Lodge, The 75th Anniversary Diamond Jubilee, 1887-1962 (San Diego: B’nai B’rith Henry Weinberger Lodge, 1962), p. 117.

42. “Temple Beth Israel,” Jewish Community News, n.d., n.p. On file at Temple Beth Israel.

43. Interview with Leslie Fox, San Diego, May 7, 1978.

44. Interview with Lillian Gaynes, San Diego, May 7, 1978.

45. Interview with Leslie Fox, San Diego, May 7, 1978.

46. Heilbron, p. 81.

47. H.C. Hopkins, History of San Diego, Its Pueblo Lands and Water (San Diego: City Printing Co., 1929), p. 290.

48. Heilbron, p. 81.

49. San Diego Community Welfare Council, Minutes of Annual Meeting, June 14, 1929. (Typewritten.) On file at San Diego United Way.

50. San Diego Community Chest, Report of Annual Activities for 1930, December 12, 1930. (Typewritten.)

51. San Diego Community Chest, Minutes of Meeting of Board of Directors, October 30, 1929. (Typewritten.) The San Diego Community Chest now is known as the United Way of San Diego County.

52. San Diego Community Chest, Report of Annual Activities for 1930, December 12, 1930. (Typewritten.) The Community Chest raised $263,533 in 1930.

53. San Diego Athletic Club, “Community Chest Program Under Way,” San-Dac-Er, September 25, 1931, p. 4.

54. San Diego Chamber of Commerce, Final Report of Nominating Committee, September 17, 1931. (Typewritten.)

55. San Diego Chamber of Commerce, “In Memoriam,” June 29, 1939.

56. “For Mayor of San Diego Draft Samuel I. Fox,” Broom, April 4, 1932, p. 1.

57. Heilbron, p. 81.

58. San Diego Chamber of Commerce, Minutes of Board of Directors, February 21, 1935. (Typewritten.)

59. San Diego Chamber of Commerce, “In Memoriam.”

60. San Diego Club, “Among San Diego’s Business Leaders,” San Diego Club Life, January 13, 1937, p. 6.

61. Heilbron, p. 81.

62. Interview with Lillian Gaynes, daughter of Samuel Fox, San Diego, November 7, 1977.

63. Interview with Mrs. Estelle Levi.

64. “Fox Sees Golden Opportunity,” p. 1.

65. Interview with Maxine Telford, San Diego, November 8, 1977.

66. San Diego Athletic Club, “Who’s Who in S.D.A.C.”

67. “Impressive Rites Held for Mrs. Sam Fox,” San Diego Union, March 9, 1937.

68. “Fox Eulogized at Final Rites; Many Attend,” San Diego Tribune, June 28, 1939.

69. “San Diegans Pay Tribute to Departed Leader,” San Diego Union, June 28, 1939.

70. San Diego Chamber of Commerce, “In Memoriam.”